Two weeks ago, Vermont Governor Jim Douglas made a threat to the legislature of that state: that he would veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage should the legislature pass it. On Friday of last week, the bill passed the Vermont House. Yesterday, Governor Douglas vetoed it. Today, the Vermont legislature overrode his veto. Vermont is now the fourth state with legal same-sex marriages.
Vermont was the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions nearly a decade ago. But increasingly legal scholars and people of reason have come to recognize that the "separate but equal" tone of such laws is inadequate to confer the rights and privileges of marriage. So, last week the Vermont House of Representatives voted to pass a new law that would allow marriages, rather than civil unions, between same-sex partners as of September 1st. The law was approved by a vote of 95 to 52 in the House, and was swiftly confirmed by the Senate.
This brought events to the doorstep of the governor, who has repeatedly said that he believes marriage should be "between a man and a woman." But in his comments to the press as he vetoed the bill on Monday, even Governor Douglas was forced to acknowledge that civil unions have limited fairness. Though he claimed that Vermont's civil union law, "has afforded the same state rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage to same sex couples," he also pointed out that he would "support congressional action to extend those benefits at the federal level to states that recognize same sex unions." In other words, the federal government only recognizes marriages, not civil unions. A civil union is not the same as a marriage.
The Vermont legislature clearly recognizes this distinction. While it was clear from before the veto that the Vermont Senate had sufficient votes to override the Governor's signature, the House hung in a tense balance. The 95 original votes to pass the bill would not be sufficient to obtain the two-thirds majority needed for an override. Five new votes needed to be found. A huge letter-writing and phone-banking campaign began over the weekend, and continued until today, when the override vote was cast. With a vote of 23 to 5 and the Senate and 100 to 49 (exactly the number needed) in the House, Vermont joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa as the fourth state where gays and lesbians can marry in the same way and with the same legal status as straight couples.
We congratulate Vermont and all Vermonters, and cannot wait to see the wedding photos begin!